A few weeks ago I took a personality test. Well, I’m not sure if that’s exactly the right term for it, but you probably know what I’m talking about: the thing where you go down a huge list of adjectives and mark the words you think other people would use to describe you, then you tackle that same list all over again except this time you mark the words you’d use to describe yourself.

I had a difficult time with both sections, being as how there were no choices like “spectacularly filthy-minded” or “prone to using prison slang” or even “possessing the sensibility of a small, excitable poodle”. It was also challenging to sit there and purposefully try to guess what people think about me, since my usual mode is to 1) be helplessly paranoid about what people think about me, or 2) try very hard NOT to think about what people think about me, so as to avoid Twitchy Mental Fallout from #1.

I think what I ended up doing was being fairly kind to myself in terms of what Other People Think, then ruthless in the Describe Yourself area. I’d mark off a hideously self-congratulatory-sounding word in the Other People section—thinking mainly of the wonderful comments I’ve received from blog readers who, though they may secretly believe I’m a spineless, urine-spraying idiot, go out of their way to say nice, supportive things to me whenever I’ve fretted about scary physical events or parenting tasks or whatever it may be—and then I’d keep that word in my brain, radiating Bat-signals of discomfort, until I found its antonym in the self-assessment section.

If I summoned the ability to admit that maybe sometimes other people don’t necessarily think I’m always a lazy chicken-shitted waste of food, I had to immediately make it clear that while that may be the case, it’s only because I have them FOOLED, because of COURSE I’m a lazy chicken-shitted waste of food. DUH.

I didn’t realize I was doing this, but it sort of became clear when the test administrator talked to me on the phone several days later. At the start of the conversation he gently told me that he was a little concerned about my results. “Have you had any traumatic, stressful events lately?” he asked, and when I said no, he asked if I’d ever been diagnosed with ADD.

(At that point I thought very seriously about just casually disconnecting the call, because I had this horrible Pandora’s-box feeling that if we talked for one more minute I’d discover that the test results indicated that not only was I unstable and roiling with all sorts of mental disorders, but that my brain was also filled with mealworms.)

In the course of our discussion and interpretation of the test, he became convinced that I’m not actually the nearly-suicidal ball of immobilized self-hatred that my results seemed to indicate. We talked a bit about what I actually am, which—mealworms aside—is this: really, really, really hard on myself.

I have a very hard time thinking, for instance, hey, I put in lot of time and effort and completed my first triathlon this summer, that took bravery and commitment and discipline. I have a much easier time focusing on how intimidated I was beforehand or how I was totally scared of the water. I find it almost physically impossible to mark off words like courageous or hard-working, but if there’s an option for craven or shiftless . . . well. Check!

Sometimes it’s like I believe that all of the changes I’ve made over the last several years are nothing but a whisper-thin veneer covering the real me. The real me never takes on challenges, never steps outside her comfort zone. She’s weak. She’s an addict. She’s a loser. She ruins everything around her.

Why do I still think this way? I’ve worked so hard, I’ve come so far. I want to get rid of this secret, sabotaging conviction that nothing inside of me has changed. Because it has. I have to believe that it has. It’s time to believe that it has.


79 Responses to “Keeping score”

  1. reply hazy, try again « mars is heaven on December 9th, 2009 5:01 am

    […] hazy, try again I just read this post from Sundry and wish I could write one that expands on the same topics, because change and growth […]

  2. Niki P on December 9th, 2009 5:39 am

    You have your shit together- you just need to do a Stuart Smalley Daily Affirmation. “I’m good enough, I’m smart enough and doggone it- PEOPLE LIKE ME!!”

  3. Kathryn on December 9th, 2009 8:24 am

    Man, I do the exact same thing. I always feel like someone’s going to find me out and realize that I’m really pretty useless. I also did my first triathlon – a super-sprint – this year. Whenever people congratulated me, I would blow it off, and say that it wasn’t a ‘real triathlon,’ or ‘that really anyone could do it’ (I still feel that way.) I should’ve just graciously accepted the compliments.

  4. Sarah on December 9th, 2009 9:44 am

    My life is very similar to yours. I stopped drinking 10 years ago after an involuntary stay at a hospital and the subsequent diagnosis of crazy drunk. I can’t help but think of the old me as such a LOSER, I’m embarrassed and ashamed of her. But, if she were a friend, I would recognize her strengths and issues and love her to pieces, because flaws make us beautiful. I try to love who I was, so I can love who I am, because I am great, and so are you.

  5. Jeanne on December 9th, 2009 10:32 am

    We believe Sundry, glad that you are starting to as well.

  6. Eric's Mommy on December 9th, 2009 11:28 am

    You are awesome, and I know exactly what you are talking about, I am the same way.

  7. Liz on December 9th, 2009 11:44 am

    This is, you know, not AT ALL the point of your post, but I’m curious: what prompted you to take the test? I often think about doing things like this, but if I’m going to be honest, I’m dead frightened of the results, so I’m curious as to how you were able (and WHY you were able to) nut up and do it.

  8. Tamara on December 9th, 2009 11:50 am

    Hello, and welcome to my therapy sessions.

    You have accomplished a lot. People do look up to you. And you are seriously hilarious. Believe it, woman.

  9. Sundry on December 9th, 2009 11:52 am

    Liz: JB took the test along with his coworkers at his company (they paid for it) and he got permission for me to piggyback onto their package deal because he thought I’d find it interesting. Which I did, but not quite in the way I THOUGHT I was going to.

  10. Simon on December 9th, 2009 12:10 pm

    It was very sobering for me when I learned of the discrepancy between how I thought people saw me vs how they actually saw me. It’s the difference between “witty, funny, entertaining, zany” and “kind of a dick.”

  11. BugginWord on December 9th, 2009 1:05 pm

    Word, girl. Perfectionism is exhausting. And yet so worth it, right? Not that I have issues. Nope. No issues.

  12. Jenny on December 9th, 2009 1:23 pm

    I read your blog and Twitter feed every day because I love your writing and perspective so much. You have so much to offer, not just to your own little circle the way I do, but to me, a stranger. The only times I ever sigh and think “Ah, Sundry, I wish I could quit you” are when you are so hard on yourself, denigrating your accomplishments or getting super defensive and hostile toward people you perceive as thinking of themselves as better than you (smarter, more educated, more yuppified, more Trader-Joe-organic, or whatever.)

    I don’t mean the times you question yourself as a mom, or wonder how you could make your life better. That’s substance. I mean what you’re talking about here. I really believe that if you saw how completely awesome you are — how you have built and made and EARNED the awesome you live with — a lot of that stuff might go away. You deserve all good things. Nobody more, really.

  13. Christine on December 9th, 2009 1:30 pm

    I think you’re amazing really. Your physical fitness regimen would kick my ass in five minutes. In this regard, you are exactly what I hope to be “when I grow up.” Not now though, you understand as that would mean that I would have to go to the gym instead of just paying for it mindlessly. :)

    Go easy on yourself. Not only are you courageous, but you’re funny as get out.

  14. Maura on December 9th, 2009 2:35 pm

    “Sometimes it’s like I believe that all of the changes I’ve made over the last several years are nothing but a whisper-thin veneer covering the real me. The real me never takes on challenges, never steps outside her comfort zone. She’s weak. She’s an addict. She’s a loser. She ruins everything around her.”

    That paragraph struck such a cord with me. As a recovering addict myself I still view myself as weak and ruining everything and everyone around me ALTHOUGH somewhere deep down I know I’ve made changes, positive changes and I need to let myself off the hook.

  15. MEP on December 9th, 2009 2:58 pm

    I read a few blogs and know some people and it’s very evident which people are honest about the shortcomings in their personalities, with themselves and with others, and which ones totally cannot, or will not, connect the dots. You are one of the former, my dear — I never read you willfully not getting it. Even when you don’t get it, you admit you don’t get it. Does that make sense?

    I know so many fucked-up addicts, users, and abusers, people who destroy themselves and their loved ones and call it a life. Bottom line, you were (and are) strong enough to identify and overcome your addiction, and that takes more willpower, discipline, and strength of character than most people ever find within themselves. Don’t ever underestimate that.

  16. Smileen on December 9th, 2009 6:30 pm

    So what do you feel unfullfilled at? I have read you, spent hours doing so, months.. reading old posts, not missing a beat. With this post you kinda lost me, maybe because at the second you were feeling the same, lost, but, I don’t know…what do you think would be the motherload of greatness. ‘Cause I really think you have done so well, above and beyond. You have readers that adore you, a family that loves you, and speedbumps along the way happens. Be more specific about whats really bothering you, or don’t… :) It’s your thoughts my love. I just find this particular cluster to be a little vague.

  17. Hannah on December 9th, 2009 6:38 pm

    I think one of the hardest things in the world to do is to get rid of negative thought patterns. They’re so insidious,so unconscious and so…so consistent. I’ve been working really hard in the last couple of months to reframe my own negative messages. What I did was make a list of negative things I often find myself thinking. As it turns out, WOW there are a lot of them. So anyway, for each negative message, I wrote out an alternate, more positive phrase. When I find myself slipping back into old thought patterns, I try to counter them with the new messages I prepared for myself. Which just sounds so cheesy, and I eye rolled the entire time I was writing it…but, weirdly, it’s been working. It takes time to undo thoughts that have been working on you for a lot of years…but I’m told that on the other side it becomes much much easier.

    And now, on a totally geeky side note…I LOVE this kind of test, and am very curious…which one did you take?

  18. Leah on December 9th, 2009 11:10 pm

    Reminds me of hearing people say, “You know, even though I’ve lost 50/100/200 pounds, I still think like a fat person because I still FEEL like a fat person.” I think the fact that you’ve changed so much just means you have a longer-than-normal route to finding the place where your self-image meets reality. Because you ARE all of the great things people think about you, and it’s good to know that even if you can’t say it out loud or check off those adjectives quite yet, you at least know who you’ve become through all the courageous, hard-earned ass-kicking.

  19. Amy on December 10th, 2009 1:20 am

    So I know you didn’t write this post to get all kinds of congratulatory and reassuring pats on the back that “Hey! You are really cool! Look how many freaking people comment on every one of your posts!” but that is just what I’m going to do. All cheesiness aside, you really are an inspiration. After having my 2nd child and spiraling into this weird postpartum depression, anger, self-loathing (coincidentally, I finally got to meet you in the height of all that. I’m sure you got an awesome first impression!), I realized that if you could get motivated to not just lose weight, but more importantly take control of your health and your life with kids, that I could do that too. I started up with a fitness plan and got some counseling. But honestly, the fitness thing has been the greatest drug for me. With Thanksgiving and then everyone in my household getting sick, I haven’t worked out in over 2 weeks, and I noticed myself spiraling down again. I just become this shitty person when I’m not exercising. Someone I wouldn’t want to hang out with, let alone be. Screw zoloft. Give me an elliptical machine and some bicep curls!

    Anyway, all that to say that people come here day after day to be inspired. You do that. And you do it in a very funny and real way. I understand being your own biggest critic, but just remember that there are a ton of people out there anxiously awaiting that first book of yours to hit the stores.

    Thanks for writing. Please remember to pat yourself on the back from time to time for all that you cram into one day. My god, woman. How do you do it all?

  20. Karl on December 10th, 2009 5:22 am

    You pile up enough “whisper-thin” layers, and what do you get? Baklava. Yum!

  21. Molly on December 10th, 2009 6:49 am

    I find you very inspiring. You seem like a person I would love to hang out with “in real life” – honest, clever and just not-perfect enough to make me not hate you : )

  22. Kaitlyn on December 10th, 2009 11:17 am

    I read this yesterday than came back to comment. It’s hard to let go of the image of oneself that has been cemented in our minds. It takes more work than training for a triathlon or a half marathon. Because you train for those and then you’re done, you can check it off the list. But changing how you see yourself, or who you believe yourself to be is an ongoing task. It helps to recognize that there’s a discrepancy, which you obviously have done.
    But you see, you don’t ruin everything around you, not at all. Look at your boys, your marriage, these things take so much hard work. Hard work that YOU put in because YOU want to.
    You’re really quite wonderful :) Believe it.

  23. Leslie on December 10th, 2009 1:24 pm

    The last two paragraphs? Exactly where I am.

    It’s amazing how what we feel about ourselves can be so different from what’s true.

  24. kim on December 10th, 2009 9:03 pm

    I’ve read none of your comments so maybe I’m repeating what others have said…your comments remind me of what I’ve read about people who used to be fat – and now they are fit/thin – but all they can see is fat. Not the anorexic kind of way – but just that their self-perception gets stuck on the ‘old’ them and it’s hard for them to accept the ‘new’ them.

    That said, “craven” and “shiftless” aren’t words I’d ever in a million years apply to you – and I seriously doubt they ever could have been.

    I have trouble being my own cheerleader – it’s almost – if I point out positive qualities others might think I don’t acknowledge or realize my negative ones…so I beat them to the punch – or project what I think they *should* think of me on them…or something.

    I’m not being clear. But – hard-working, courageous, strong, persistent, intelligent…these are the words I would use to describe you.

  25. trope on December 12th, 2009 1:32 pm

    (likes post)

    I really appreciated this post, I think it describes pretty well what’s going on in a lot of our heads. A lot of bloggers’ heads. A lot of women’s heads.

    And about the blog comments that you get–most of my comments are not well thought out, or complete, but they are heartfelt, and I think that goes for most people here. If we say we like you, it’s ’cause we like you. I have never dragged myself out of my RSS feed and waded through the comments lounge while dinner is burning in order to lie to someone. I’m just sayin’.

  26. Shawna on December 13th, 2009 6:32 pm

    I’ve been reading since long before you gave up booze, became a mom, etc., and you’ve so obviously moved far forward with your life. Yet, I would say that you haven’t become a hugely better person because, even back in the Diaryland days, you never would have been able to convince me that you were a bad person to begin with.

    Sure, everyone has flaws, but there are very few good people that have never done any bad things. I speak from personal experience on this one: I think of myself as a relatively good person, yet I would say in all seriousness that I was probably certifiable for awhile there in my twenties and there is more than one ex-boyfriend out there that would be nodding if he read this.

    Cut yourself some slack. You’ve worked for it yes, but you’ve always deserved it.

  27. Madeleine on December 16th, 2009 7:27 pm

    I wish I could write with half the humor and insight that you do.

  28. Maria on December 19th, 2009 9:18 am

    This really resonated with me.

  29. Maria on December 19th, 2009 9:22 am

    Also, it’s really interesting to me to read about your insecurities and vulnerabilities. I admire your talent and personality and humor and uh, EVERYTHING about you so much that it’s actually surprising to hear you feel down on yourself. I’m like WAIT WHAT? And then I want to hug you.

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